Behind the Scenes: How We Choose the Fabrics for Photo Garments

Behind the scenes: How the McCall Pattern Company chooses fabric for its photo garmentsChoosing the fabric for photo garments—industry speak for the finished pattern that is made up and then worn by a model on our pattern envelopes—is a team effort here at the McCall Pattern Company. We recently met first with McCall’s designer Jacqueline Polikoff, and then with fabric editor Penny Payne, so we could share with blog readers our fabric selection process.

Meg Carter: When you’re working on a pattern design, at what point do you think about which fabrics to use?

Jacqueline Polikoff: I’ve usually collected lots of fabric inspiration before I sit down to design a seasonal collection. I’ve got tearsheets from fashion magazines and catalogs, and often our merchandising team has examples of styles they think will work well as patterns. So I tend to already have something in mind when it comes to the fabrics I want for each pattern design.

Meg: What about the licensed designers, like Anne Klein or Rachel Comey? Do they give us fabric options for their patterns?

Jackie: No. When you see the model wearing a photo garment by a licensed designer, she is wearing the real thing—an actual designer garment that we acquired from the designer at their showroom. We don’t alter or change their design in any way, including the fabric that was used.

Meg: With so many fabric options out there, how do you even begin to choose something? I think many of us home sewers, myself included, spend way too much time obsessing about which fabric will be absolutely perfect for the pattern we want to sew.

Penny and Jackie reviewing fabric possibilities for Spring '17 McCall's.
Penny and Jackie reviewing fabric possibilities for Spring ’17 McCall’s.

Jackie: Choosing fabrics is about where I want to take the silhouette—or “body” as it’s known in the industry—and what’s the story I want to tell the consumer. Designers have their preferred fabrics, and I’m no exception. I love crepe de chine, poplin and chambray. But I also need to think about what’s going to really show the seaming and the lines of the pattern I’m designing.

Lighter colors tend to show this better than dark ones do, for example. Prints, and how a person responds to them, is an extremely personal thing. You can either love a print or hate it. And I also need to show fabrics that are readily available to home sewers. I can pick the most beautiful fabric for a photo garment, but if it’s something people won’t be able to find, I’m not helping our consumers.

Meg: What about the illustrations we show on our pattern envelopes? Do you choose fabric for those as well, even though those views aren’t being made up into photo garments?

Jackie: Yes, the illustrations are just as important as the photo garment. If a particular pattern’s photo garment doesn’t speak to you, then I have three other chances to reach you. I, and the other designers here, select fabric for each illustration and we provide our in-house illustrators with swatches. So even though those views are illustrations, you are seeing real fabric that we think would work well in a finished garment.

Penny (r) shows Jackie some of the newest fabrics added to the McCall Pattern Company fabric library.
Penny (r) shows Jackie some of the newest fabrics added to the McCall Pattern Company fabric library.

Meg: Now it’s Penny’s turn. Penny, tell us about how our pattern designers work with you and use the fabric library.

Penny: After they’ve completed their designs for each collection, I’ll meet with our designers and they’ll share their inspiration for each pattern with me and talk about what kind of fabrics they have in mind.

We’ll get into specifics: What kind of drape, quality, sheer vs. opaque, knit or woven, and so on. Together we’ll look through the fabric panels in the fabric library. This is where I organize, display and maintain swatches of the newest fabrics available from textile manufacturers and fabric stores. The fabric library serves as a resource for our designers and our entire company.

As Jackie said, it’s important to show our patterns in fabrics that are available to home sewers. Whether or not the fabrics, notions and trimmings we show can be found online is important, because many home sewers don’t live near brick-and-mortar fabric stores and shopping online is their only option.

People email us all the time asking where they can get the fabrics we used in our photo garments. I’ll source our fabrics from stores like Jo-Ann Fabrics, I’ll work directly with fabric manufacturers like Robert Kaufman and Telio. I’ll also shop for fabric locally in the New York garment district, and I rely on online fabric retailers too.

Meg: Wow, shopping for fabric as a profession?! That sounds like a dream job!

Penny: It is!

When someone asks if we want to go fabric shopping


V1467 Pea Coat Sew Along: Choosing Your Fabric. Plus, Fabric Store Discounts!

V1467 choosing fabric

This week in the #V1467SewAlong we’re all about choosing fabric for your pea coat. But first, do you know the history of the pea coat? That it’s been around since the 18th century? Read this interesting blog post for more pea coat history and photos.

Pea coats have been around for centuries.

So let’s talk about choosing fabrics for your pea coat. Wool is the time-honored choice, and probably what most of us will choose for our pea coats. Sew along co-host Rachel has just written a very comprehensive post about selecting wool fabrics, so do read her thoughts on this if you want to make a wool pea coat.

But the great thing about us sewing our own pea coats is that we don’t have to make them from wool, and we don’t have to stick with navy as a color either. Below are some examples of jackets we found in various fabrics that would work well with V1467 (Anne Klein for Vogue Patterns):

Pea coats don't have to always be made from wool. From the V1467 Pea Coat Sew Along on the McCall Pattern Company blog.
Clockwise from top left: Prada Fall ’15 jacket made from a techno fabric that might be neoprene fused with another fabric layer; Burberry quilted nylon jacket; Vanessa Seward denim jacket; and Marni silk-cotton jacket. All images, except Prada, from Net-a-Porter.
Pea coats don't have to always be made from wool. From the V1467 Pea Coat Sew Along on the McCall Pattern Company blog.
Clockwise from top left: Marques Almeida metallic brocade jacket, Day Birger et Mikkelson wool and brocade jacket, both from Net-a-Porter; Lands’ End nylon jacket; and Cameron leopard print faux fur jacket from Lord & Taylor.


Save on your pea coat fabric! Your favorite online sources for fabric have given us special sew along discounts to pass on to you:

Fabric Mart: 25% off coupon code good toward their wool category. Use code MCWOOL25. Valid on full-priced fabrics. No other discounts or coupons apply and not valid during site-wide or category sales. Expires September 25, 2015.

Gorgeous Fabrics: 25% off list price of wool fabrics with coupon code. Expires September 23, 2105. Use code V1467ALONG.

Fabrics & Fabrics: 10% off all fabrics by the yard (does not include swatches) through September 30, 2015. Use code vWgMO068M9.

Britex Fabrics: 20% off all regular-priced fabrics through September 23, 2105. Use code VogueBritex.

V1467 Sew Along resources: We have a Pinterest board with interior and exterior detail photos of the actual sample Anne Klein pea coat, and we’ve just pinned a bunch of inspiration photos to it as well. Our Flickr group is now live, and this is the place to share your work-in-progress photos if you’d like. And remember to use #V1467SewAlong when you share images on social media.

Next week on the Sew Along: Rachel talks about making a muslin as a first step on her blog. How are things going with your pea coats?

5 Ways To Make Everyone Think You’re a Sewing Pro

5 ways to make everyone think you're a sewing pro. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

Just think, with a sewing machine, a pattern and some fabric you can actually make your own clothes. Being a beginning sewer is exciting and empowering as you learn how to sew a wardrobe that’s uniquely you. It can also be really frustrating when you’re trying as hard as you can but keep churning out things that look “Becky Home Ecky,” an insult Michael Kors used to toss at struggling designers on Project Runway.

Relax, making clothes that look as nice as better RTW is within every beginning sewer’s reach. All you have to do is follow these five tips:% Ways to Not Look Like a Beginning Sewer

1) Know what fashion styles work best for you.

Just because you now have the ability to make your own clothes—which makes you a super-cool human being—doesn’t mean you need to turn into a DIY fashionista queen. Remember that while sewing may be your new passion, it does take time and money. Before you even think about sewing the latest fashion trend (ooh, culottes!), head to the store and try it on. Or search online and see how it looks on people with your body type. Think of all the time you saved but not sewing something that was going to look terrible on you no matter how well you made it.

5 Ways to Keep From Looking Like  a Beginning Sewer

2) Choose a fabric that makes you look like a pro.

Beginning sewers often feel their nascent sewing skills aren’t worthy of better fabric, so they limit themselves to low-cost fabric. (We don’t mean good fabric at affordable prices. We mean poorly-manufactured fabrics that are priced low because the quality is low.) One, cheap fabric will always look like cheap fabric, even if you sew well enough to meet Patrick Grant’s approval. Two, better fabric is a pleasure to sew with, and will help you be a better sewer because it will cause less frustrations at the sewing machine. Cheap fabrics fray easily, snag frequently, pill when washed, and are often printed off-grain. Three, better fabric can make the simplest of designs—an elastic-waist skirt, for example—look like expensive designer RTW.

5 Ways to Keep From Looking Like  a Beginning Sewer

3) Test the details first.

As a beginning sewer you’re going to have a lot of firsts: first zipper, first pocket, first buttonhole, etc. Grab some scrap fabric and practice sewing these details before you begin working on your pattern. Be prepared: You may need to test-sew several versions before you get it right. Only after you’re satisfied that your imaginary sewing teacher would give you an A+ should you attempt sewing your first [insert scary new sewing technique here] in the garment you’re working on.

basting stitches blog

4) Baste for greater control.

Sure, pins are perfect for holding things together and we use them all the time. But when you want to have real control at the sewing machine and achieve perfect stitching the first time, baste your garment pieces in place. Hand-stitching secures your fabric much more precisely than pins do, and it doesn’t come out like pins can. Sure, it may take you a little longer to baste rather than pin (though not much), but you’re so much less likely to need to rip out your stitching and try again. Use a thread for basting that pulls out of your fabric easily, like a silk thread.

5 Ways to Keep From Looking Like  a Beginning Sewer

5) Press for perfection.

Nothing screams “beginning sewer” louder than a garment that was sloppily pressed during construction. Invest in a good iron with steam and high heat, and pick up some pressing tools such as a tailor’s ham and a wooden point presser. Then follow the pattern’s directions and carefully press seams and sewing details at every juncture, not missing a single step where pressing is called for. The result will be a crisp-looking garment with sharp details.


Five ways to make everyone think you're a sewing pro. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.